‘Plungers’ again take icy winter dip

Be amazed at how many people were willing to take a swim in the icy Columbia River this year – and why …

Special Olympics Oregon Polar Plunge mascot pauses for a photo with Porsche Schlueter on chilly Broughton Beach.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Winter swimming aficionados were sorely disappointed when the 2014 Portland “Special Olympics Oregon Polar Plunge” at the Columbia River was cancelled in February – oddly enough, due to weather frigid conditions.

Their disappointment turned to elation when the date was reset for March 1. On that Saturday, the temperature was a balmy 35° – with a strong frosty wind from the east, and sputters of near-freezing rain.

The Portland Police Bureau Icy ID Techs recruited others to join their team for this year’s Polar Plunge.

But, these chilly conditions didn’t stop some 1,000 folks from showing up at Broughton Beach on NE Marine Drive, across from Portland International Airport, and donating $50 to take a wintery dip in the mighty Columbia River.

Especially happy about the large turnout was Special Olympics Oregon Marketing and Communications Director David Warner – who said he’s on the “every-other-year” Polar Plunging cycle, and was supporting the event on land this year.

The Port of Portland Police Plungers say they’re dressed, and ready to take a dip.

“All of this support means everything to us,” Warner told East Portland News. “This is our largest fundraiser of the year. All this money raised goes directly to benefit our athletes, and to support the programs – the competitions, the training – and to helping the athletes feel inclusion.

“It helps them in their ‘training for life’,” Warner said.

These are some of the colorful entrants in this year’s Costume Contest.

Before the 11:00 a.m. Polar Plunge winter swim began, individuals and teams came down to the beach to enter the costume contest. These participants proved they are not only crazy enough to take a winter swim in the Columbia – but also zany enough to dress up in costumes beforehand.

Colorful characters – including Wally Gator, Miss Princess, Here’s Waldo, and other characters too odd to identify – stood, while the announcer solicited applause for each contestant in turn. The adulation of the crowd determined the victor.

Law enforcement agencies from around the region supported the event, including the bewigged “Port of Portland Police Plungers”, and the Portland Police Icy ID Techs teams.

MCSO Chief Deputy Jason Gates and Captain Mary Lindstrand stand ready to lead their team, the MCSO All Stars, to the Columbia River for their plunge.

Not to be outdone, again this year the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) team, the MCSO All Stars, showed up in force.

“The Sheriff’s Offices have had a long association with Special Olympics Oregon,” pointed out MCSO Public Information Officer Lt. Steve Alexander. “It is a fun adventure every year; although it seems to get a little colder every year.”

Special Olympics Oregon “Super Plunger” MCSO Deputy Richard Hathaway talks with Public Information Officer Lt. Steve Alexander, minutes before taking his 24th hourly dip into the chilly river.

Alexander introduced their team’s “Super Plunger”, MCSO Deputy Richard Hathaway. “Starting yesterday at noon – and again once an hour, for 24 hours – all of us ‘Super Plungers’ run down the beach, go straight out to one of the MCSO Dive Team members and high-five them, go all the way underwater, come up and head back up into the tent and look for some warm clothes!”

Asked about the experience, Hathaway told East Portland News, “Well, it’s cold! But, I’m with a great group of people. Some of them have been ‘Super Plungers” since it was offered as an option, and will take their 100th plunge today.”

Deputy Hathaway individually raised more than $3,500 to support Special Olympics Oregon. “What we’re doing it for a great cause. It’s worth doing.”

The crowd cheers on this year’s Special Olympics Oregon “Super Plunges” as they head down the beach toward the river for their last dip.

Most of the Polar Plungers take a quick dip, before heading back to shore.

Teams began lining up as the designated hour approached, and staged on the beach. Human waves of participants ran into the Columbia River. Some splashed, others dunked – but all of them quickly made their way out, and hurried back to the warm changing tents.

Mercifully, a brief sleet shower held off until after most folks had taken their icy plunge.

© 2014 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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